Customer Contact Strategies Blog

Michele Rowan

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The Maturing Work at Home Model - New Trends

Posted by Michele Rowan

May 14, 2019 at 2:59 PM

The work at home model is mature in the contact center world, with a solid 10 years of significant utilization under our belts. It is considered low lying fruit for ROI, in that businesses have the same clear visibility of output regardless of where people sit (in house or at home) and it appeals to so many people. This is not the case with many other enterprise roles, but for highly transactional jobs like many contact center experiences, working from home is - for the most part - a big, easy win.

The 2019 Remote Working Benchmarking Survey shows that the average mix of in house vs. at home reps is 70% in house and 30% at home, with some companies deploying 100% of their reps at home, others just 5%. So there's a wide span of mix at home, driven predominantly by business objectives.

With the maturity of the business model, here are shifting trends we are seeing from our hundreds of customers who pass through our doors (via work at home conferences and custom consulting):

  1. Business objectives for work at home have changed. Up until just a few years ago, real estate cost savings/reduction of facility footprint with the primary driver for most companies in deploying the work at home model.   Today, with 3% unemployment, the key objective is to offer rich benefit packages to attract and retain people, and this includes working from home. This is a big shift.
  1. Deployment strategies have changed. The model is mature, the technology works. Companies can get more creative now with deployment strategies. They now include large part-time work forces that office at of their homes, people that work some days in office and some at home, pop-up satellite offices in desirable hiring markets for purpose of new hire training/early day culture building.
  1. More support functions and managers have moved home. For years, many companies asked managers to remain in office, along with support functions, while customer experience reps went home. Why? For most, there was no good reason, except to avoid additional change. Today, after many trials and tribulations, many managers/supervisors and support functions work from home for at least part of their schedule, to effectively experience what their reps are experiencing.
  1. Performance results remain higher than in house for most.   Top of the list is employee satisfaction, which is higher than in house for 98% of companies utilizing the model. That's directly connected to retention, and attendance, along with high value metrics (production, customer satisfaction, selling).

Below are a few areas where a small percentage of companies experience challenges, and questions I would and do pose to get to root cause:

  1. 10% of companies report that medical leave (FMLA predominantly) is higher with home-based reps than in office. Relevant questions to ask to get to root cause on this include: a) what is your rep occupancy level running? Are you burning people out, and they are reaching for medical time off?   b) Are you moving people home that slack off in office? In other words, are you choosing people to work from home who don't have the discipline to work from home?
  1. 5% of companies report higher turnover vs. in house. a) Are you using temporary workers or a staffing agency for placement? b) Is your new hire training ineffective, causing people to exit early? c) Do your remote people connect to the company as easily and as often as in house employees, in all respects, including socializing, knowledge sharing, supervisor interactions?

If you want to learn more about what others are doing with their work at home models, join Michele Rowan and Customer Contact strategies at an upcoming work at home conference:




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Topics: Remote Working

Top Three Pitfalls of Work at Home Programs and How to Avoid Them

Posted by Michele Rowan

January 8, 2019 at 10:25 AM

Top Three Pitfalls of Work at Home Programs and How to Avoid Them

Our company does a couple of things. We hold workshops, conferences, and perform on site consulting to help companies get work at home and remote working programs right. We see hundreds of deployment strategies per year, a ton of innovative tactics and processes, and yes, some big pain points and important learnings.

So here are the top three trending pitfalls of work at home programs (for contact centers and support functions specifically) and how to avoid them:

Pitfall #1: Bad hiring - we’re speaking specifically of transferring in house employees into work at home positions, or hiring people externally into work at home positions. Why do we get this wrong? Usually it's time pressure (setting unrealistic goals to fill positions), and/or lack of proper assessment of required knowledge,, skills, abilities to successfully work remotely.

To get the wheels back on and deliver a stable, high talent, low turnover hiring program:

· Start with a new job description. Focus on what's required to be successful working from home or working remotely at your company.

· Use a comprehensive job simulation tool. Prospects need to take a test drive of what the job feels like, (by doing it), and companies need to get a glimpse of their prospects doing a test drive . Two excellent vendors are Furst Person and Chemistry.

· Past performance and behavior. Behavioral interviews, reference checks, background checks are the tools we need. SkillSurvey invites applicants to furnish references of friends/colleagues and gets good results, candid feedback (so say our clients).

· Skilled final decision maker. We've seen companies sometimes ramp up hiring (unrealistically) and put interviewers/hiring decision makers in positions that don't belong there. Inexperienced people in these roles will result in bad hiring, it's a sure thing!

Pitfall #2: Disconnected new hire training - the most crucial components of training are identifying what people need to know, and when they need to know it. Skills based training (starting with one or two skills, gaining proficiency, then adding more) has the highest success rate in a contact center environment, and works well for remote/virtual learning. Use mixed mediums and micro-learnings (5-7 minute segments).

Pitfall #3: High-effort/Fragmented Connection to Co-Workers - remote working is a mature staffing/business model, and there is great technology available to make sharing knowledge and experiences, in a remote environment as low effort and as effective as in-office. There are also great tools available that make socializing remotely as easy and as effective as in office (nearly). Enterprise Social Networks are the norm (Slack, Facebook for Business, Microsoft Teams). Collapsing several communication channels (i.e. chat, email, bulletin boards, IM) into one is what makes these tools so easy to use, no matter where people sit. Video (for most team meetings and one to one meetings) is a baseline requirement. If your company is not willing to invest in video and virtual meeting platforms, (i.e. Zoom, Adobe Connect, Teams, Go To Meeting) we recommend you keep your staff in an office building. Face to face interactions hold huge importance and without it, programs suffer, engagement weakens, performance slips, turnover rises.

Want to learn more and benchmark best practices on work at home programs?

Join us in Dallas March 6-7, 2019 for the Remote Working Summit:

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Topics: Remote Working

Work at Home and Culture Connectivity - Getting it Right

Posted by Michele Rowan

May 23, 2018 at 10:27 AM

Cultural connectivity is one of the top concerns leaders have about deploying an on scale work at home program. The question is, "how will we successfully convey our culture, and inspire people to engage, when they aren't in the building?"

It's a good question, and it should be followed by a second question: "how will we measure our effectiveness?"

Here are some proven, recommended strategies for grounding corporate culture at home as effectively as you do it in house, and measuring how well you are doing:

  1. Meet together as a leadership team for the soul purpose of solving for this.
  1. Affirm what the term "company culture" means to your organization. Generally, it includes things like core values, beliefs, how leaders lead, how people make decisions, how leaders treat each other, accepted behaviors and desired behaviors.
  1. Discuss and identify, very specifically, the strategies and actions you take to convey culture to in-house employees, and inspire them to engage.   It will look something like this:

 in office table culture connectivity

4. Next, go through the same exercise, replacing the term "in-house" with "remote".

What needs to change as a result of people being distributed? The tools employees use to learn about company culture, to see it in action, to test it - some of them will change. But the core actions involved will not. So the question we ask is - how good will the business become in terms of furnishing the tools and environment for remote people to observe, test, and participate in company culture? There are many technologies that help make this pretty easy to accomplish. The work is in rethinking the ways in which the company unveils and promotes is company culture from day one (of working remotely).

Your table could look some thing like this:

 at home table culture connectivity


Interested in best practices on work at home strategies for contact centers and support functions?

Join us at an upcoming Work at Home Conference (Denver July 18-19 and Laguna Beach, CA October 16-17 and November 14-15).

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Topics: Remote Working

Telecommuting Problems or Management Problems?

Posted by Michele Rowan

September 26, 2017 at 2:24 PM

Recently some large companies made announcements about pulling back on their telecommuting programs. In general terms, the notifications advised many professionals who had worked remotely for years - that they needed to come back to the office to work, or lose their jobs. 

For many, the challenges of returning to the office could be insurmountable. In several cases, local offices had long since closed. So effected remote employees would have to either uproot their families to move to a location where there was an active office, or take on a 2-3 hour commute each way. 

This was a well thought through, huge step backwards for companies involved. So what went wrong? And which groups were impacted? Specifics about impacted groups (i.e. contact center reps vs. corporate employees) were not available publicly.

Here are some significant considerations and likely scenarios:

  1. Impacted remote workers were corporate employees, not contact center employees.   Contact center jobs are highly transactional, and 100% of visibility of output is maintained with the move to work at home (via ACD views, etc.). As long as companies make the right investments in collaboration and communication platforms, there are no downsides to contact center work at home programs. There are only upsides, including larger talent pools, increased schedule flexibility/employee satisfaction, improved attendance and retention. Effective management/leadership is an obvious requirement.
  1. Corporate telecommuting programs can have poor visibility of outputs, poorly managed teams or programs. I do a good deal of on site consulting work around work at home initiatives, for both contact centers and corporate telecommuting programs. I have seen a number of cases of non-contact center telecommuting programs that suffered from weak leadership or weak management. When managers don't take the care to set clear expectations and agree on ways to consistently measure performance against agree upon outputs, chances are targets won't be met. When leaders are weak, disorganized or otherwise ineffective, employees will disengage. And telecommuters are more likely to disengage faster, and further.
  1. Telecommuting (non contact center) no longer meets corporate objectives. This can happen. Company objectives usually change every couple of years. Telecommuting may no longer be a strategy that's aligned with objectives.
  1. Overhead cost cutting strategy. In some cases, reduction or elimination of corporate telecommuting programs may be a way to contribute to cost cutting strategies or work force reduction strategies, while avoiding the headaches of performance-based or seniority-based reductions.  

Contact center work at home programs work, unless they are peppered with weak ineffective leaders. It's far easier for the contact center organization to get work at home right than any other function within the organization.

How does your organization stack up against others? Join us at the Laguna Beach Work at Home Conference November 15-16, 2017 to validate your effectiveness.



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Topics: Remote Working

How to Hire the Best Reps for Work at Home

Posted by Michele Rowan

May 22, 2017 at 3:28 PM

A 2017 survey of 60 US contact center organizations indicated that 70% are expanding their work at home programs - many moving to new markets.  It is a fact that when we effectively market home-based positions, we see an increase in applicant flow of 200-400%. Here's the challenge: with growing work at home programs, smart hiring workflows and process automation become a requirement, versus a passing interest.


We have worked with hundreds of organizations who have become very successful at work at home, but all too often the applicant funnel becomes so large, it's unmanageable. As a result, the wrong reps get hired. Here are two examples of proven workflows and processes that help companies hire the best reps for work at home.

When Hiring 500+ reps per year or more:

  1. Applying for the job - keep it simple, 10 minutes to complete is optimum. Ask applicants to use a device similar to the one they will be using for the job itself (laptop or PC). Mobile phones can make the application process itself cumbersome, and alter results.
  1. Opt in/out questionnaire - the second gate (after the physical application itself) should be a questionnaire that includes the minimum requirements such as job scope, hours, shifts, and minimum abilities/aptitudes. When applicants choose undesirable multiple choice answers (i.e. no vs. yes) on more than 30% of the questions, suggest (through auto-return of results) that their choices indicate this specific job may not be the best fit for them. Forecasted fallout rate of applicants at this point in the process: 35%
  1. Upload/download speed test - for those that applicants that pass the gate above, invite them to speed test their current ISP, enter the upload/download speeds in a pass/fail section on the application, and upload or screen shot the results to you with a date/time stamp.   The hiring company is assessing technical skills and gaining critical information about ISP viability all in one go. Best practice is to make this a separate section on the application module itself. Forecasted fallout rate of applicants at this point in the process: 20%
  1. Self-scheduled recorded job simulation - for those applicants who meet the minimum upload/download speed test, send an auto invitation for a recorded job simulation session.   Applicants will be asked to respond to questions/simulate real world customer/employee exchanges with the use of recorded audio (minimum) and/or ideally, video. Maximum time for this session is 10 minutes, including practice. Forecasted fallout rate of applicants at this point in the process: 25%
  1. Company review of recorded sessions and personal interview - it is only at this point in the process that the hiring company starts to manually touch the application. The application itself, the upload/download speed, the questionnaire and the recorded job simulation are reviewed by a credible hiring function within the organization (usually someone in talent acquisition or HR). For those applicants that meet all minimum requirements, a personal interview is scheduled.
  1. Personal interview - conducted virtually using video, and conducted by the person responsible for making the hiring decision.


When Hiring less than 500 reps per year:

If the technology investment described in #4 above is not available, use a manual phone screen for this step. All other steps are identical to above.


To learn more about what others are doing to fully leverage home working, join an upcoming Work at Home Conference. The next one is July 19-20 in Denver.  


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Topics: Remote Working

Flexible Scheduling and Self-Scheduling for Work at Home Staff  - Contact Centers

Posted by Michele Rowan

January 18, 2017 at 1:30 PM


Self Scheduling Chart.png


Home-based staffing reduces labor costs by an average of 20% by more closely aligning staff (in very short segments) to arrival patterns of voice and non-voice work.

Work schedules in contact centers have always created challenges, and are usually the top one or two drivers of turnover. For most organizations, there are night-time and weekend hours to fill, there are spikes in certain day parts and times of the year, and there are other unplanned events that arise that ultimately result in shortage of staff, and gaps in service level. For many companies, it's a consistent growing problem, and expensive to manage.


Including work at home in your staffing strategy can relieve much of the pain. Here are some examples of how contact center organizations utilize self-scheduling and flexible scheduling to improve staffing and reduce costs.


  1. Qualify a segment (i.e. 25%) of you work at home staff to build their own work schedules from your business requirements. There is large population of qualified people we can consider for work at home positions that prefer varied shifts, split shifts, etc, so that they can wrap their jobs around their core focus (often meaning their family, school, other part-time career or life interest).   Hiring them (or identifying them within your existing population of work at home staff), and offering self-scheduling in small 2 hour segments based on your business requirements will satisfy their schedule needs. It also enables you to get unstaffed when you don't need it (i.e. two-hour shifts) and add people (in short shifts) to exactly where you do need them.


  1. Allow most or all of your work at home staff to self-schedule a small segment of their work schedule (i.e. 20%) while you shift bid the balance. In this case, 80% of a work at home team member's schedule is fixed, and a bid process is used to ensure that full time staff are scheduled where needed. The work at home team members then use the self-scheduling model to build out the balance of their full time requirement. Some self-scheduling hours are posted in advance (based on business requirements), new hours are posted daily based on real time needs. Again, hiring people and identifying people that need this sort of flexibility in their lives is the key.


To learn more about Flexible Scheduling, Self-Scheduling, and Work at Home Best Practices, join us at the 2017 Remote Working Summit, Dallas, March 8-9. Citi, USAA, Hilton, Kaiser Permanente, Express Scripts, Capital One and Esurance are amongst 20+ Speakers on Work at Home for Contact Centers.


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21st Century Contact Centers - the Future of Work

Posted by Michele Rowan

October 26, 2016 at 9:51 AM

People in many parts of the world are changing how and where they want to work, and it is nowhere more evident than in the United States. Flexible working is the #1 new benefit being offered by employers, according to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management.

            Yes, technology continues to drive the pace, but growing in prominence, employees are raising their expectations for workplace-specific technology. Workers value cutting edge technology above most other perks, per the Work in Progress 2016 survey facilitated by Adobe.

            While "working from anywhere " creates it's own set of challenges, it is here to stay, led by specific segments and job functions where work is transactional in nature populations are large.

            So where are the big impacts, the high volume payoffs in virtual working? What are the pitfalls and challenges companies are facing?


            Mobile, social, video, web conferencing and chat have all influenced the way that we get work done. While we still use email and we still use instant messaging, we are seeing many modes of interactions blending together, such as Slack, Yammer and Socialcast. Some business communication experts believe that we'll reduce the number of channels or modes we use to communicate, and automate more along the way (i.e. automations to manual monthly reports, expense reports, travel documents).

                        Highly transactional, densely populated work groups like contact centers have had exceptional results utilizing the remote working environment, both full-time and part-time. Companies maintain the exact same visibility of output of home workers as their in-house counterparts. For the most part, they use the exact same the same technologies. The only significant change is in digital tools that employees use to learn, and share knowledge/experiences, and these tools are being implemented in office anyway, because they're more efficient.

            There are a number of incremental benefits that highly transactional groups are seeing from expanded use of the work at home model:

  • Staffing and overall labor cost improvements (staggered start times, shorter shifts, and split shifts), reduce overall labor cost reduction by 15-25% (2014-2016 CCS Remote Working Benchmarking Survey).
  • Disaster recovery and on demand staffing are both significantly more effective in managing volume due to inclement weather staffing shortages, and unplanned spikes in volume.
  • Employee satisfaction is 10-20% higher, leading to better attendance (25% improvement in unplanned absenteeism) and employee retention (trends of 30% improvement 2011-2016, CCS Remote Working Benchmarking Survey).

            On the downside, companies that invite workers in more traditional jobs to

work remotely for some or all of their work schedule sometimes struggle to gain visibility of output, and find that collaboration can suffer. Both can be overcome, but it requires investments in technology, management muscle and cultural shift that a lot of companies fail to think through or plan for before the launch their remote working programs.

            Customer Contact Strategies is holding a Work at Home Conference in Laguna Beach, CA, November 16-17.   It's two days of deep dive discussions on remote work, a number of great speakers/case studies, and really meaningful benchmarking.


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Top Three Failure Points of Work at Home Programs

Posted by Michele Rowan

February 26, 2015 at 6:34 PM


Over the past five years, we've worked with 800+ organizations in design, implementation and continuous improvement of work at home programs for contact centers.  

Now that home working for contact centers is moving into the mainstream, there are some patterns emerging in terms of failure points.  The top three are folllowing, along with proven methods of turning things around, or better, avoiding the failure points all together:

1.  Bad Hiring - 62% of respondents from the 2015 Remote Working Benchmarking Survey cited poor job matches as the top reason for turnover, particularly in the 30-120 day employment window.  This is generally the highest turnover segment for contact centers, and the highest cost, due to churn. Minimize bad hiring:

  • Streamline and automate processes, transform from "manual" environment
  • Use 21st century technology for sourcing and assesing candidates (recorded interviews, simulations)
  • Incorporate personality testing into your process, once you've established what "good hires" look like
  • Put together well thought out behavioral interview questions
  • Arm yourself with ample and qualified hiring resources
  • Don't set unrealistic hiring targets

2.  Bad management - employees who are successful in training, but later (30-120 days) disengage and depart, are likely feeling too much distance, and lack of support.  Distance and lack of support could be caused your business processes and technologies (covered in #3 below) or could be caused by the quality of your managers themselves.  Best practices on going from bad to great remote working management:

  • Align the way work gets done (on site and virtual).  If everyone accesses the same systems to share knowledge, communicate, recognize, exchange, then moving someone a few blocks or a few hundred miles away won't matter much, if at all.  In other words, go digital (chat, enterprise social networks, video)
  • Prepare managers for the virtual distinctions that do exist in your organization and best methods to close the gaps
  • Set expectations on frequency and quality of touch/interactions
  • Expect and measure demonstrated competency of virtual working (for managers and team members)
  • Be careful to put a mediocre manager in charge of remote employees - they will struggle or fail

3.  Virtual distance - when people feel cut off, isolated, or have to exert incrementally higher effort to be seen or heard (compared to their in house counterparts or other jobs they've had in the past), they will eventually lose interest and move on to an environment where it's not so difficult to achieve personal best. Surefire methods of marginalizing "virtual distance" in your work environment:

  • Go digital - everybody works from the same platforms to get stuff done, regardless of where they sit
  • Visiblity of co-workers - implement an enterprise social network (Yammer, Jabber, Socialcast)
  • Require use of social platforms - it's not for fun - it's where most exchanges take place
  • Share knowledge - use peer resolution to solve problems (group chats, groups on the enterprise social network)
  • Keep socre - implement real time desktop scorecards - everybody knows how everyone else is doing
  • Engage/applause - at minimum, utilize the enterprise social network for reward/recognition and better, add gamification to amp up the fun and value.
  • Measure effectiveness of your remote program frequently - bimonthly mini-surveys at minimum

Join us at one of the two Advanced At Home Strategies Workshops in 2015 (July 22-23 in Denver or November 11-12 in Laguna Beach), for deep dive discussions and best practice exchanges on all of above.










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Topics: Remote Working

Top Five Remote Working Priorities

Posted by Michele Rowan

December 16, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Survey results from 100+ Fortune 1000 companies with home-based employees are in.  Not surprisingly, the top challenge for companies is preparing leaders for effective management of telecommuters.  The second largest challenge has been reported in

training people on technology usage and leveraging technology to drive productivity and engagement.  Here's the list from the survey results:

  • 71%:  Preparing managers for remote roles
  • 52%: Training managers and remote staff on technology
  • 47%: Engagement of remote staff
  • 45%: Satisfying hiring requirements
  • 32%: Upgrading/replacing legacy technologies


Given telecommuting is the #1 new benefit being offered by employers in 2015-2016, getting business processes, technologies, and work flows sorted is becoming increasingly more important.  Pretending it's not different, or leaving it to your managers to wrestle with, will result in performance gaps, and impact engagement.

If you've got people working from home, or remotely, or you're thinking about offering it, please do two things:

1.  Register for the 2015 Remote Working Summit February 17-19 in Dallas  - 20+ speakers, and it's only once a year.

2.  Download the paper on Five Remote Working Priorities, and best practices to make it go.



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Topics: Remote Working

Psychometric Testing Tools - Employers are Split

Posted by Michele Rowan

October 8, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Personality tests can predict on the job behaviors, or they are intended to.  And the use of them in customer service jobs is rapidly expanding.  60-70% of prospective workers are tested by US businesses today, doubling its use from a decade ago, according to a September article in the Wall Street Journal.

Psychometric testing can be an extremely valuable tool for assessment and selection, by adding science to a mix where previously there was none.  Leading up to this decade, most businesses pretty much relied on background checks and interviews to make employment decisions. While both have high impact, less information is available via background checks today, and interviews can be quite subjective. Translation:  the risk for hiring mistakes is mounting.

So including a third pillar to the process by collecting a snapshot of cognitive abilities, personality type, customer service skills and other traits can create a really balanced approach to the hiring process.  Many businesses like IBM, Home Depot, Target, Walmart, and McDonalds utilize them.

But there is growing scrutiny alongside the rise in utilization, particularly around effectiveness and fairness. The EEOC is investigating whether personality tests discriminate against people with disabilities.

Perhaps we should examine the point at which personality tests are administered.

Many companies place the testing process at the very beginning, in an attempt to streamline the entire application process. Personality testing comes at the same time that people are learning about the job, and the minimum qualifications.

And other businesses ask applicants to take the personality test later  - after they've learned about the job, and the minimum qualifications.  Applicants read about things like specific responsibilities, working hours, shifts, work days, minimum levels of experience, special skills.  And they either opt in to continue on (acknowledging they meet the described minimums) or they opt out - on their own - because they discover they are not a good fit. 

Only after applicants self-select through the minimum gates, is the personality test then offered.  Why does this make a difference?  It saves everybody time, it reduces the risk of testing people that may not meet minimum qualifications (through their own de-selection) and it saves companies money, because fewer people are tested, and fees are based on started/completed tests.

Testing companies want employers to test everyone, but it doesn't mean it make sense for you business.  In fact, combining personality testing and minimum qualification assessments very early in the process is likely adding to the risk of poor matching, and certainly adding to hiring costs.

We'll have this debate at the Laguna Beach, CA Remote Working Master Class on Nov 12-13.

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Topics: Remote Working

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